Words & Photography: Luke Brown
Complete novice. MasterChef finalist. Owning a private dining company. Presenting food festivals. Cooking under the watchful eye of Josh Barnes at Goldsborough Hall. The last three years have been a whirlwind of success for Chef Radha Kaushal Bolland. She is the epitome of unconventionality; a chef who has forged her own way, negating the traditional, hierarchical culinary pathway, doing so in a rapid timeframe. We met her in February 2023 at her home kitchen and this is her story...
“Between each audition there was a quite a prolonged break, so I would begin to forget about it, and each time the memory of it faded, the BBC would ring to let me know I had progressed to the next stage”, she reminisces. “Then in late September, I got the official invitation – I was going to be on Masterchef!”
As professional chefs go, Radha Kaushal Bolland does not fit the mould; up until three years ago, she explains that she could not cook a bowl of chips, let alone the mouth-watering flexitarian dishes that have fast tracked her progress in the culinary world. The flexitarian method that has helped position her as one of the brightest, emerging gastronomic talents is an approach to cooking which places emphasis on eating more vegetarian dishes, but not cutting out meat completely. By heavily focusing on plant based and vegetarian ingredients, Radha has managed to carve out a unique approach to Indian cuisine that has cemented her ever increasing reputation and fast-tracked her precipitous culinary progression.
But where did this talent suddenly appear from? Her interest in food has always been there she assures me, it was more the attraction of actually cooking the dishes that lacked. However, that all changed in 2020 once Covid arrived. This was to be the year that catalysed an unfound talent within Radha and would usher in the start of the journey for one of the most extraordinary young chefs in the country. “Lockdown hit in March 2020, and like most students across the country, I moved back home. I was in the middle of my finals for law school, so days were spent revising in my room, and spare time expended in the pursuit of new hobbies”, she recalls with a smile. However, despite the time and effort spent on preparing for the legal field, there was uncertainty over whether it was her dream career, and on reflection, she firmly suggests that it was not. Disillusioned with what her future may look like, bored at home with the constraints of lockdown, and looking for something to entertain her to pass the monotony, Radha suddenly tripped and fell into cooking.
“Growing up in a household where food played a pivotal role in day-to-day family life, I was exposed to brilliant cooking."
Due to her parents being out of the house for most of the day due to their professions, Radha would often attempt to prepare dinner for the family, so the pressure was off when they arrived home from work. It was here, in a simple act of family cohesion, that a spark was ignited. Although, she quickly points out that her first few attempts at cooking dinner were borderline disastrous. “When I first started helping out, it wasn’t exactly what I would call cooking! Although I gave it a good go, the dinner’s didn’t quite turn out as I would have hoped, much to the amusement of my brother!” Over time, however, what started out as a helping hand, began to morph into a genuine passion, and with ample free time afforded to her with the numerous lockdowns, her skills rapidly developed.
“At university, my cooking skills were restricted to cheese toasties, and Uncle Ben’s rice dishes. I never tried to interact with food that much, because after a busy day at uni, I wasn’t interested in trying to cook,” she explains candidly. However, during lockdown, she discovered that cooking offered her a sense of self-expression and creativity, and as her passion grew, her talent matured in tandem. The juxtaposition of her chef skills at university, and then at home is fascinating, and only furthers the argument that cooking is a skill borne out of passion. She quickly acknowledges that she may have been at an advantage due to her childhood, as “growing up in a household where food played a pivotal role in day-to-day family life, I was exposed to brilliant cooking. My mum is Indian, and my Dad is English, so we had a hybrid of south-east Asian cooking, alongside European dishes, so each meal was a flavour explosion!” It was through the nostalgia of family meals, where Radha found the main source of inspiration for her cooking and most importantly stimulated her springboard to success: MasterChef.
“I came downstairs one evening in 2021, and there it was, an advert asking for chefs to apply for MasterChef. By this point, I had already secretly decided that law was off the table, and I was enjoying my cooking so much, I just thought why not.” An impulsive decision, but one that was a stroke of brilliance. She raced through the auditions and tests, and then by late September, she received the call that she had been selected for the first round. “On my way down to London to film for the first episode, I remember talking to my parents about how my goal was just to get past the first round. I knew I would be up against individuals who had been cooking for years and were far more experienced than myself.” It was safe to say she crushed that initial goal. Weeks later, Radha was competing in the MasterChef final. With her Indian infused approach to dishes, Radha wowed, and captivated MasterChef judges Greg Wallace and John Torode. Whilst she concedes her disappointment that she did not manage to win the overall competition, her achievement to even be in the final is testament to her ability and creative culinary vision.
Immediately after the series aired on the BBC, Radha’s trajectory sky rocketed. In the time between filming and MasterChef airing, Radha ingeniously laid the foundations for her next venture - The Spicy Flexitarian. Based around her approach to cooking using the flexitarian approaches, she offers a private fine dining service which can include various events such as mixology cocktail parties and a 9-course Tasting Menu and since launching, it has been a triumph. However, it was not without its setbacks prior to the launch. “I wanted to sort of start the business as soon as I finished filming in December. However I was contractually obliged to the BBC, so I couldn’t start my business until the last episode of MasterChef”, she recalls with a slight tinge of frustration. The wait was worth it though. The time allowed for Radha to solidify her business plans, and by the time the final was broadcast, her social media following exploded, facilitating major early success, which has only grown since.
When people take a mouthful, I want them to get the crackle from the pomegranate, accompanied by the cooling from yoghurt followed by the texture from crispy chick chickpeas.”
Since establishing The Spicy Flexitarian, Radha’s rapid ascension through the culinary world is moving even faster. Whilst the business is currently regionally based, she details her plans for the next stage, with evident excitement. “I want to get to national and international overseas shipping. I realise that is a logistical nightmare, but there are early signs it can work. I’ve had talks with DPD and it’s now about getting that process moving.” This is just one of the various plans she has, with concepts for a restaurant, and cook books also at the forefront of her mind. “I suppose I would like as many avenues as possible to showcase my approach to Indian food, which I believe has a misconstrued perception. I integrate fine dining principles, alongside British culinary influence, into my dishes, with a real focus on allowing the spice, and by that I mean aromatics, to shine.” As she highlights, too often in the UK is authentic Indian food dulled down to accommodate the palate, however this is often at the expense of depth and intensity of flavour; a renegade chef is required to reinvigorate the Indian gastronomy…we wonder who!
It is not just her Indian and English heritage that gives Radha her source of vision, the natural world is also a major player. Very often when asked the question over inspiration, creatives from across the spectrum give abstract, conceptual answers, which often overlook the wealth of stimulation that nature offers. For Radha, this is her sanctuary of invention. “With the outdoors and nature, you’ve got so many different colours and textures and I love to represent that in my food with vibrant and vivid ingredients alongside varied textures”, she explains. “For example frosted leaves give a crunch and snap, and I want to reflect that in my food. When people take a mouthful, I want them to get the crackle from the pomegranate, accompanied by the cooling from yoghurt followed by the texture from crispy chick chickpeas.”
Like many of the influential chefs that have gone before, the real aim of cooking is to bestow a sensory experience on the consumer, and in Radha’s case, that experience should reflect an expedition into the dramatic landscapes of the natural world. Life has been busy for Radha, and there has been no let up. Food festivals, demonstrations and recipe walk throughs have also been a staple of Radha’s diary since her MasterChef success. Despite the onslaught, her passion for cooking seems to burn brighter than before. “It has been manic don’t get me wrong, but it has been brilliant fun! The food festivals have been a great way to interact with both my fan base but also the wider population. For me, it’s about sharing my passion of food with as many people as I can and at some point, I want my own show at these festivals and maybe launch my own fair,” she says eagerly. Radha’s ambition seems to know no bounds, and this was only furthered recently, as she joined the prestigious kitchen at Goldsborough Hall’s restaurant in North Yorkshire, working under former Head Chef at Michelin Starred Galvin la Chapelle, Josh Barnes. From the outside, she appears to be assembling a formidable foundation to move to heights that will far surpass even her current stratospheric ambition…
So the future beckons. A meteoric rise to a commanding platform; I doubt she would have foreseen three years ago, but what is evident that Radha has no intention of slowing down. This is an individual who wants to reach the very top, and in an industry that usually follows such a rigid systematic progression, she has reinvented the whole process of becoming a professional chef. “Food is always evolving, it’s always changing, and I am striving to be at the forefront of that constant culinary progression,” Radha surmises perfectly. We had better buckle in for the next chapter!
The interview was featured in The Guide: A Lifestyle Compendium Vol.1, which you can buy here.